Memories of Jim Flaherty

I had the pleasure of working on Parliament Hill for about two years, through 2008 and 2009. I never worked directly for Minister Flaherty; however, as a staffer in PMO and then in the Minister of Industry’s office, I had a chance to work with his team on a number of key projects. As he concludes 8 years of distinguished service to this country as finance minister, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on his accomplishments, and on some of our interactions.

I first met Minister Flaherty when he spoke privately to a group of Parliament Hill staffers and interns shortly after the 2008 budget. This was the last budget before the major global economic downturn that happened that year. Even then, the government perceived potential problems coming – which is why we cut taxes, and also why we introduced tax free savings accounts. This measure, in the 2008 budget, is having a lasting impact on the financial health of our country. Measures that encourage additional private savings can help to counter the problem of high household debt, and help Canadians to accrue the resources needed to endure challenging economic times.

Meeting Jim Flaherty in person, I saw his sparkle and wit, but also his intense intelligence. People on the Hill know him to be a very serious policy thinker. He was not someone content to coast along or to believe some set orthodoxy – he had his own opinions, and pushed the things that he believed in. There are certainly some areas, such as income splitting, where I don’t agree with him. But I admire a politician who has convictions and seeks to advance them. I wish to be such a politician.

Jim Flaherty was also someone who was keenly interested in the nitty-gritty of issues. When I worked for the Minister of Industry, the Industry committee was holding joint hearings with the Finance committee on credit card fee regulation. This is a complex issue, which pits different business stakeholders and economic principles against each other. Jim Flaherty took a keen personal interest in understanding the topic and working through it. He was a Minister who was interested in the details, not just the ‘high level’ stuff.

Of course, Minister Flaherty will be remembered primarily for his handling of our economy through a very serious global economic crisis. His accomplishments in this area are significant, but they should not obscure many of the critical changes he made to our economy to both prepare us for this crisis and to position our economy for success long into the future. I have already mentioned the tax free savings accounts; and, let’s remember also the numerous tax cuts he brought in for individuals, families, and business, his work with the provinces to keep combined business taxes at or below 25%, his commitment to preserving healthcare and education transfers to the provinces and finding savings inside the federal bureaucracy itself, and his international work with other finance ministers around the world to combat the global forces which threaten our economic wellbeing. The impacts of his tenure as Finance Minister will be significant and wide-reaching.

In addition to everything else, I believe that Minister Flaherty’s jovial personality and sense of humour have been critical to his success. Sometimes the right joke or smile can break tension and help to get important work done. Minister Flaherty, thank you for your service to Canada, and best wishes in your retirement.